The documentary “Soviet Storm: WW2 in the East” is now available on Amazon Prime. It covers primarily the USSR’s struggle during the Second World War against Germany, beginning with Operation Barbarossa. It was made for Russian television by Russians and is based on original newsreel footage, CGI, and interviews with German and Soviet soldiers. An English narration replaced the original Russian one but the maps showing fronts and movements, which are excellent, are still in Russian.
It’s interesting to see how such a titanic event as WW2 is portrayed through the eyes of others, but especially the Russians, whose heavy lifting during the war doesn’t get much coverage in American cinema and curricula. (The D-Day landings resulted in about 2,500 American fatalities and about 2,000 from other allied nations. Such losses would have been barely worth mentioning in the East.) Understanding the Russian view of WW2 is important to understanding how they see themselves even today.
Given the political climate of the Age of Putin, I was wary, thinking it might be a slick propaganda piece, and they did slide quickly by some incidents that don’t reflect well on the USSR. However, overall, I thought it was a balanced presentation of Soviet and German conduct during the war and it filled some gaps in my knowledge. There are reasons, after all, for which the Germans did not arrive in Moscow as fast as their tanks could get there and there are reasons for which Soviet and German losses were so great throughout the almost four years of conflict.
The coverage is comprehensive–18 episodes of about 45 minutes each–including more detail about the land war than I’d ever seen before, but also episodes on the war in the air, the sea war, the role of partisans, and the war of spies. The last episode covers the USSR’s brief but “tipping” involvement in the war against Japan. Here is a list of episodes:
- Operation Barbarossa
- The Battle of Kiev
- The Defence of Sevastopol
- The Battle of Moscow
- The Siege of Leningrad
- The Battle of Stalingrad
- The Battle for Caucasus
- The Battle of Kursk
- The Liberation of Ukraine
- Operation Bagration
- War in the Air
- War in the Sea
- The Partisan Movement
- Secret Intelligence of the Red Army
- The Battle for Germany
- Battle of Berlin
- War Against Japan
The considerations presented, along with some from another interesting documentary, “The Price of Empire“, have really opened my eyes to how resource-strapped the Axis militaries were during WW2 and how that affected their strategies.
It was sad to note how many Soviet officers were executed during the war and even after, having returned from prison camps only to face trail. What a relief Stalin’s death in 1953 must have been to everybody.
Another thing that was particularly interesting was the episode on Operation Bagration, in which the Soviets obliterated the German Army Group Center, destroying men and materials the Germans could no longer replace, and forcing the German armies to the North and South to withdraw completely from Soviet territory.
So how did the West help in this struggle, according to the documentary? A lot of it comes down to those resources the Axis lacked. The importance of Lend Lease is given its due with specific mention and appraisal of American tanks, trucks, and aircraft. The knowledge that the British and Americans would open another front did keep German divisions tied down in France. The British defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain and American and British air raids on Germany meant that the Axis armies in the East never really got the air cover they needed, the near destruction of Soviet air power in the early days of Barbarossa notwithstanding.
A few criticisms, based on what I think I know from other sources:
- Generally, it goes light on Stalin, and lays on his staff, the Stavka, the disastrous “no retreat” orders that allowed the Germans to capture hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers in the early stages of the invasion. It does not fail to lay on Hitler the consequences of his own such orders.
- It completely ignores the Soviet army’s sitting on its hands just outside Warsaw while the Germans crushed the Polish resistance when it rose up in the city in 1944.
- They mention collaboration by “nationalists” with the Germans but don’t go into much detail about why people would have considered the German invasion a liberation.
It’s well worth a watch to appreciate the cost that was paid to defeat the Axis, even if your eyes glaze over a bit during the recounting of some of the minutiae.